Written by Gail G. Collins
A good wine bar serves as an introduction to distant lands via the glass. A
sip can conjure images of an indulgent trip, a happy celebration or even initiate a new relationship … with a fine wine. The wine bar’s choice of bottles reflects expertise about varietals, value and va-voom. It recognizes that ambience—or time and place—matter in finding delight in a swallow of sunshine or something berry wonderful. And inevitably, as we linger, we long for an equitable nosh. So, what qualities turn a good wine bar into a great wine bar?
Without competent staff, it’s just another bar with pedestrian pours. The brains behind the bar should possess a giddy enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge, not holding out as if they have a snooty secret. Conversation is encouraged as education builds an appreciation for wine. A satisfying and easy way to do this is with wine flights or food pairing nights. A great wine bar need not stock the world’s holdings, only its unique finds. It is not about the hot grape trend, but a choice of tastes and prices. That includes wines by the glass—chosen to broaden insight on classic styles or less-familiar domains. Ask if there is something unusual open to sample. Details also do make a difference. Lighting too dim to note the legs of a red, music too loud to hear the clink of glasses or seating too cramped to dally dampen the experience.
Lastly, vital to any great wine bar is a great menu, and it must contain more than cheese, charcuterie and panini. Care taken to marry the menu with an assortment of flavor profiles will enhance both. So, when the Wine Loft closed, it was with a sigh of relief that longtime customers realized it was for a transfer of ownership and a revamp with a kitchen to boot. Fred Wojtkielewicz sold the perch above San Francisco Street to Doug Brozovsky and Pam Hyde, who coincidentally enjoyed their first date at the Wine Loft. As a Certified Specialist of Wine, and now, as general manager, Fred continues responsibility for the wall of wine at FLG Terroir Wine Bar. The 400-plus bottle selection is arranged by style. “The philosophy is small producers and boutique with a European focus on Italy and France,” he said, “but includes all wine regions and varietals at a range of price points.” Value wines, from $10-15, sell alongside better bottles offering those, who want to branch out or create a special night, the chance for finer things.
Creative control of the property upgrade engaged Kim Duncan Design and Reitz Restoration. The rough-beamed ceiling melds into muted grey wood and banquettes. A community table, counter seating and intimate tables join the original bar scene. Wojtkielewicz noted, “The owners were glad for the place to continue, but to raise the standard with impressive food.” Clean, white subway tiling throughout the open kitchen invites those pairing possibilities.
Kitchen head Marcus Lobstein came from the Wine Loft connections. He happily received a wine education from Wojtkielewicz, while working behind the bar for five years. It matched his previous family instruction in roasting coffee, which led to the science of food. “I was naturally inclined to taking food and libations seriously,” he said. James Hoffen consulted, regarding the kitchen and menu, challenging Marcus to grow his artistic experience. “We approach a simple menu item and up the elegance profile.”
An example is oysters, fresh and delicious, with flavor appellations. A briny one begs for an acidic wine. Of course, wine suggestions abound for the small plates. “We shaped the menu to reflect the wine and showcase both,” he said. The menu features three savories, served over Belgian waffles, which are formed with stiffened egg whites for a light, crisp platform. The chicken Marsala is slow-poached and less buttery, but creamy. The Peking duck confit leg, doused in soy and orange juice before roasting, is finished off with rice vinegar, hoisin and plum sauce. Try it with vina Borgia Spanish Garnacha.
The hoisin pork rillettes, a shoulder or belly portion, shows off tangy, sweet and salty sides with Szechuan peppercorns and quickly-pickled, in-house cornichons plus crostini. Pair this with deeper, punchier reds possessing tannins. The hominy dip and baba ganoush hybrid come with flatbread and tabbouleh. Sip the Bernier chard from Loire alongside. Additionally, the bar serves 50 specialty ales and house made sodas, such as ginger lemon. A final pleasure, Hillary Wamble handcrafts ice creams, such as peach Riesling or Pedro Ximenez with a custard and sherry blend.
Wojtkielewicz and Lobstein coordinate pairing events monthly. The inexpensive, highly-interactive setting is fun and informative, fueled by feedback to shape future wine nights. A range of wine styles and foodie items gathers interest and promotes FLG Terroir as a great wine bar. NAMLM